In 2009, a brave leap was made and the original Star Trek crew was recast. Yet while this move was considered something of a reboot, it was technically a bona fide continuation of the established saga we had all been watching for decades.
We may have been saturated with the exploits of Picard (then Sisko, Janeway and Archer) almost continuously since 1987, but Kirk, Spock and McCoy would always be the trio that remained in the public consciousness whenever Star Trek was mentioned. The Next Generation cast had hung up their movie phasers in 2002 and Enterprise had stuttered to an undignified halt on television in 2005 so, from a commercial point of view, it made sense that we’d eventually see younger versions of the original crew.
But the plot device they used, that of an alternative universe, threw up some interesting – and intriguing – fictional differences.
The ‘split’ in realities was triggered by an event in 2387 that created a temporal black hole. This 24th Century occurrence (the detonation of red matter by Ambassador Spock in an attempt to suppress a massive supernova that threatened the galaxy) happened in what we began to refer to as the Prime Timeline [PT], the one that we had been following starting with the exploits of Pike on Telos IV in 2254 and up to and including the Shinzon crisis in 2379. Romulus was destroyed and Spock was accidentally pulled into the black hole as was the Romulan captain Nero, who held Spock personally responsible for his home planet’s destruction.
But to understand the effect this had on reality and James T Kirk specifically, we need to go back to the 23rd Century PT.
“Whatever our lives might have been, if the time continuum was disrupted, our destinies have changed.”
Aged 18, Captain Christopher Pike enrolled in Starfleet in 2223PT, following advice from senior officer Alexander Marcus, and received officer commission four years later. Having serving on a number of starships, he was assigned to the USS Enterprise in circa 2250PT as her captain, following his position as that vessel’s first officer under Robert April.
But due to the arrival of Nero from the PT future in 2233, reality split, triggering a parallel – but markedly different – reality. This was ten years into Pike’s Starfleet career and he would have been serving aboard a starship, most probably as a lieutenant.
Nero’s first act in the past was to launch a devastating attack on the USS Kelvin, destroying that ship and her crew, including Captain Robau and first officer George Kirk. The divergent reality we refer to as the Kelvin Timeline [KT] existed from this point on.
So, in January 2233KT, James Kirk was born prematurely aboard the Kelvin, his birth triggered by the attack and the stress upon his heavily-pregnant mother Winona.
However, in March 2233PT, Winona and George had by this time settled in Iowa on Earth and James, their second son, was born in far less violent surroundings. George would continue his career in Starfleet and his sons would both find careers within the United Federation of Planets: George Jr (aka Sam) became a research biologist, while James found fame as a starship captain.
In 2246PT, Kirk was living on Tarsus IV when Kodos the Executioner struck. At aged 13, Jim was one of few eyewitnesses to the massacre. He subsequently enrolled in Starfleet in 2250PT, supported by an officer called Mallory, graduating in 2255PT and assigned to the USS Farragut. At some point before 2260PT, Kirk was an instructor at the Academy. In 2264PT, he was given the USS Enterprise after Pike accepted a promotion to Fleet Captain, commanding her for many years to come.
There is nothing to indicate that in 2246KT, Kirk wasn’t on Tarsus IV but certainly this version had little respect for authority and the law, finding himself in a bar fight with Starfleet cadets in Iowa in 2255KT. Christopher Pike was also on Earth, in the position of an instructor at the Academy and interceded, saving Kirk from a severe beating and then influencing the young man’s decision to join Starfleet (this Pike had written a dissertation on the fate of the USS Kelvin and so was aware of Kirk’s heritage). Kirk was assigned to the new USS Enterprise in 2258KT, becoming her acting-Captain during a confrontation with Nero (who had been lurking in deep space for 25 years in the hope that his nemesis Spock would appear through the temporal black hole – which he eventually did).
Interestingly, the USS Enterprise had been in service since circa 2240PT but only launched for the first time in 2258KT. Technology differed too, from one reality to the other, with this new universe seemingly more advanced.
The Enterprise returned home in 2269PT after a successful five-year mission that became legendary in Starfleet history. Circa 2270PT saw the refit and relaunch of the Enterprise and her subsequent exploits and that of her captains (Decker, Spock and Kirk himself [again]) are well documented.
In 2260KT, Kirk captained the (slightly-refitted) Enterprise for her first five-year mission to explore uncharted deep space – the first of its kind for the Federation – but was destroyed in 2263KT after Balthazar Edison’s violent assault on the UFP’s principles. Her successor was built in drydock at the massive starbase Yorktown and launched at some point in 2264KT. Kirk and his crew continued their mission and we can only assume at this juncture that he brought her home in one piece in circa 2265KT.
We are yet to discover what happened beyond that date, either to Kirk himself or to his beloved starship and, with the KT movie series in flux, it may be a while until we find out…